#eye #eye

Go Home Yankee (and take me with you)

Curated by and exhibiting Jermaine Ibarra and Sara Jajou 
GalleryGalleryInc, (Studio 8, Level 1) 7A Hope Street, Naarm
18 October - 2 November 2023

This exhibition took place on the stolen lands of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge their continuing kinship and connection with land, waters and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Sovereignty was never ceded.

The ‘Go Home Yankee’ project is an ongoing and expansive project driven by community to solidify kinship between diasporic communities so we may decolonise together. It was started by my friend Jermaine and myself, as we started to carve out space for ourselves. We wanted to strip away all the inaccessibility of institutions so that the people we make our art about, such as family, could also experience it. We create textually and linguistically, often beyond the limitations and bounds of English language which alienate us from each other. Go Home Yankee (and take me with you) at GalleryGalleryInc was our first attempt at finding our footing and developing strategies and ethics of decolonising. Moving forward, the project continues to hold space for linguistically, culturally and ethnically diverse caretakers and audiences of knowledge in all capacities. If you would like to be involved we welcome you warmly to get in contact with us.

Go Home Yankee (and take me with you) is a diasporic meditation on displacement that asks where one’s home is when the coloniser leaves behind his ghost. Curated by Jermaine Ibarra and Sara Jajou, they pose an intergenerational conversation with motherlands and recenter diaspora as active caretakers of culture, land and community. The exhibition considers the remnants of Western imperialism in The Philippines and Iraq and speaks to the impressions made on the cultural, religious, militant, economic and ecological landscapes of motherlands.

Decolonially, Ibarra and Jajou soften boundaries of intimacy, hospitality and domesticity - inviting audiences into an alliance of kinship and reciprocity. Their directions meet at the axis of empathy for each other and their kin, in the sharing and carrying of cultural knowledge. With both resonance and tenderness, the works look to expressions of language to be heard and understood. The only thing they ask is that you look, but do not read. In the vulnerable words of poet Olave Nduwanje, “I rather you would just look. Just look! Bear witness, don’t claim me! Pick a place beside me, and let me do the seeing.”

Sara: I wanted to spend some time reflecting on our duet-show Yankee 1 at GalleryGalleryinc. We both have talked about how crazy of an opportunity it's been, and everything that's following so quickly afterwards. It's also the first time our art has entered the public so loudly and gracefully, with the generous help of GG parents Laine and Josh. Our work that entered the space was completely transformed by the time opening night came around. How do you feel about this?

Jermaine: I’m all about the way a work reveals itself over time. I might go into a work with an idea of what it means, what I believe it’s meant to look like and how I’m going to go about getting it done but if I catch an idea or a new direction, my intuition tells me that I’d better take it there. This transformative nature I feel was partially because we were allowed to try things without being shut down which is a massive privilege. I believe in looseness, not in a careless way but in a way where the ‘answer’ or the ‘direction’ can reveal itself further or be subject to change. Those stools weren’t meant to be on the wall initially, but you suggested it on that installation day and I’m glad you did.

Jermaine Ibarra, Go Home Yankee (and take me with you) (2023), 270x270x480mm x 8 plastic chairs

Sara: I feel as though there's a guarded intimacy in your work, like in Balikbayan Boxes and your stool installation. I don’t know if guarded is the right word because you're still making yourself so vulnerable. When we were talking about it you said something along the lines of "[I'll let you in, but only from a distance]". Can you extend on this…?

Jermaine: I’m thinking about this little plaque I’ve got on my desk in the studio, it reads “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you” and that’s how I feel about this ‘guarded intimacy’, I can show it to you and I can try to externalise it and put it on a plinth and put that plinth in front of you but I could never make it mean to the viewer what it means to me, to understand every reason why I did what I did, and I’m not super interested in doing that, also because I think it’s lowkey impossible. 

The point where I can no longer express myself to the viewer or be understood by the viewer is what defines the “distance” I was talking about, I think it’s more of an ineffable vulnerability that can’t clearly be conveyed than it is a guarded one, but in saying that I do find that there’s something about ‘keeping something for myself’ through being guarded, I don’t think everything is for everyone, and that distance is to protect my kin and my motherland from the colonial gaze, you can look but you can’t touch and you certainly can’t own.

I’ll never not invite people into my work but please don’t expect to ‘get’ everything, I’m perfectly happy not knowing or not ‘getting it’. I think it would be exhausting to ‘get’ everything or to at least to act like you do, it’s ok to not know, it’s ok to not own something

Jermaine Ibarra, Balikbayan Boxes (You’re Listening To Repatriate Radio!) (2023), ammunition boxes sound installation, 508(L)x381(W)x229 (H)mm  

Jermaine Ibarra, St. Sebastian Pray For Us (2023), mirror rope and arrows installation, dimensions variable

Sara: We talked about these layers of knowledge early on and who can access what. It was nice to remove that expectation of being understood or having our works 'read'. I also like the way you frame your work as revealing itself to someone rather than being read into – it's less intrusive. It changed the way I thought and I was surprised by the layers in my work that yourself and others revealed to me.

Jermaine: While working with you/ knowing you I’ve noticed and admired your focus and emphasis on a community-based practice that champions accessibility and inclusivity. At times I’m very quick to describe and reduce my own practice as being ‘insular’ and when I feel extra reductive, as ‘selfish’ because it begins with myself through my lived experience or my feelings and I wish to be as considerate as you. What draws you to practice with such a deliberate consideration towards community and other people when most artistic practices typically consider the artist’s perspective first and foremost?

Sara: I think my art is insular too. These days I think of it as a meeting place and invitation for love. I'm asking people to come meet me at my work. When artists don't make themselves vulnerable enough to come out and meet me, it feels uncaring. I also think of it in terms of inaccessibility when artists use gated language and ideas– why bother calling an audience to witness you master and hoard knowledge? It's so boring.

I seek love within communion. I had a very Chaldean/Syriac-Catholic upbringing; being in choir, attending Saturday school and going to church. I felt a lot of love as a child from my family and it was built around speaking and singing in our mothertongue (Sureth) and dancing. Communal gathering filled most of my life as a child and I probably went to hundreds of weddings, engagements, baptisms and birthdays. As I'm getting older, I've realised that my immigrant family overtime has adapted the pacing and structure of this capitalist colony. We don't really gather as much anymore and English fractures communication between us intergenerationally. English feels very clinical and objective to me. In a strange way, my mothertongue Sureth held space for more expressions of love and connection. Somehow, maybe I could love you better if I said it in my mother tongue.

Sara Jajou, English-Sureth Dictionary (2023-present) and My Jidu tells good stories but his Jidu tells them better (2023), dimensions variable.

I want to return to these spaces of gathering; I want to hold space for communion. I try to make my work hospitable because it feels more foreign to be unwelcoming. It's muscle-memory. When I put my work out for the public, it's just a meeting point. It starts with my lived experience and the words I've come to know, but I am also asking others to share with me. For me, there is no separation between the audience and the artwork. I want my art to be transformed by others the way love does. My art is saying, I want to go here and I want you to come with. Wow, I just reached the same thought you did a month ago.

Jermaine: That invitation for the viewer to meet you and the expression of 'I want you to come with' makes me think of the '(and take me with you)' part of the show's title. There's a huge presence of familial archival images throughout our show, why do you think you're drawn to such imagery and what does it mean to you?

Sara: It feels kind of ghostly. When I think of Chaldean and Assyrian diaspora, they're marked by this collective sense of loss and anxiety about cultural survival. I think when you have a culture which has been assimilating for so long into other identities, we hold onto archive as if to say 'we're still here'. Family cameras are also such an accessible form of cultural production and archive too; I can look back at old videocassette tapes and relearn old hymns and songs in Sureth that my parents sang to me. For 'modern' Assyrians and Chaldeans, this is major because we haven't always had the accessibility to document ourselves in a stable way. If the Turkish genocides had been successful and we were fully ethnically cleansed, it would've been very easy to erase any collective memory of Assyrian Indigeneity.

When I was going through the archives for the show, I found a couple envelopes from the early 2000s with photos of my family who settled in the american colony. Addressed to my mother, Lenda, her sister had sent baby photos of their children. It made me realise that many people have my baby photos too and not just my parents.

Sara Jajou, My Jidu tells good stories but his Jidu tells them better (2023), 8mm film, single channel video projection onto curtain installation, 13 min

I also learnt recently that my Jidu was the first person in his village, Benatha, to own a camera. When I think about it, my family in Iraq only knew how to read and write and define themselves in their colonial language - Arabic. Family archives extend beyond these limits of self-representation and colonial efforts of erasure. 

Another thing we haven't spoken about is foreignness - especially with the variety of Iraqi/Assyrian and Filipino food we had. The show I felt completely removed the 'Other' as we became the centre. I don't mean you and me individually, but collectively with our families and communities. I bring this up because the first question you posed at the start of this duet-show was "why shouldn't this be here"?

Jermaine: I think that the 'centre' (and thusly what is deemed foreign and on the margins of this centre) is defined by the cultural majority, and in this moment we were the majority. But what I find beautiful is that our 'centre' wasn’t defined by exclusion, by what wasn’t there but rather by what was. It wasn’t a situation where we defined ourselves by what we aren’t, but by what we are, and in that moment we were all there. I think that’s where 'foreignness' stems from, the feeling that 'I am THIS, but not THAT', when this system of thinking is left behind the idea of foreignness holds much less weight.

I remember this beautiful feeling on opening night when I walked through the gallery, I gave my Lola a kiss on the cheek, shared a moment with our uni tutors and then cracked jokes with Joshie all within the same few moments. There wasn’t a 'foreignness' we were all just there and we weren’t wondering as to why that was. We all shared a circle that refused to define a margin of exclusion or exclusivity or any other 'ex' word around it.

Jermaine Ibarra, Is Past Is Past? (2023), digitally printed waterproof vinyl tarp, dimensions variable. 

One of the most profound moments in the show for me was your English-Sureth dictionary, which provided the audience with the decolonial tool of language by creating words that previously didn’t exist. I’m beginning to see the motif of written and spoken language in our show. We’d spoken about the importance of recognising that while we may be marginalised under colonialism for any number of reasons, it doesn’t negate us from our own complacency in the colonial project and how discourse and conversation can become a tool for understanding and decolonisation.

What power do you find in spoken and written language?

Sara: I’m most disturbed by the presence of colonial ideas in language. In Sureth, it takes form in the erasing and forgetting of words that are needed to talk about decolonizing. The way that Sureth has been disrupted by colonial and imperialist forces is alarming because we have lost a vocabulary of colonial resistance.

You're not just linguistically limited but politically limited. I felt this frustration when trying to talk with family here about The Voice to Parliament, but I didn't have words like 'land rights', 'colony', 'settlership' or even 'Indigenous' etc. In the same way, we don't have words in current circulation to critique colonial concepts being adapted and weaponised by Assyrian/Chaldean diaspora such as 'land abuse', 'nationalism' and 'whiteness'. It's urgent because this diaspora is complicit in a colonial web of harm and right-wing racial rhetoric; and consequently augmenting further violence against their own communities and other Indigenous peoples. The European settler/Indigenous 'native' binary is really limiting because immigrants are involved in colonial structures and again, we don't have the words in Sureth to speak about it.

It's also paradoxical because Assyrian diaspora want to decolonize the Nineveh Plains in 'Iraq', but are not actively addressing their settlership in the american, canadian and australian colonial projects. You have to start decolonizing from where you are, otherwise you'll carry all these harmful colonial ideas back to your homeland. You can't decolonize without being in communion and harmony with other Indigenous groups; which is a whole other realm of missed opportunity for connection and resistance. I can sit here and talk about colonialism for hours in English but I can't do the same in Sureth (yet).

Josh said something like "[it's your language, who else is going to speak it but you]?" So, to answer your question, I decided that once I say the word, it starts to exist. Language has a beautiful aesthetic of exchange – I can say something, then you can negotiate with me and we can reach somewhere different to where we started. Either way, we'll both take responsibility for what we're saying and we don't have to reach the same point. Just use the words to talk to me and that's a start.

Ok now last question – what did you take away from working with me?

Jermaine: That there is room for us and if there wasn't, then we'd make room for ourselves. That there is room in our scene for sincerity, truth, connection and love and that trumps all that boring intellectual bla bla bullshit. You've taught me that feeling and intuition is so infinitely valuable in what we do and that shit cannot be taught.

Sara:  I don't have the English expression for it but all I can respond to you with is the Tagalog words you taught me – ang pighati natin ay iisa.

حزني وحزنك واحد